So far I have introduced the predicament of buying glasses with high index lenses in a monopolized glasses market, and reviewed my online shopping experience at three web-based optical retailers: DB Vision, Warby Parker and Glasses.com. Along the way I have attempted to provide objective reviews of these retailers based on my personal experiences as well as advice for anyone considering buying high index glasses online.
For this post, I intended to rank my three purchases and pick my standout favorite. That turned out to be more difficult than I thought. Instead, I'll finish with a brief summary and the pros and cons of each pair. This will supplement my earlier reviews now that I have had the time to wear each pair for a longer period.
Part 2 of this review, are designer frames with 1.74 high-index lenses. The second are the same frame with 1.67 lenses and are slightly defective. I was allowed to keep them after requesting a fourth replacement order. The third, not mentioned in this review until now, are a pair of computer glasses, also designer frames, with 1.67 high-index lenses that I purchased using the complimentary $100 credit provided by Glasses.com for the inconvenience of messing up my first order so many times.
Pair 1 took forever to get right and the lens package I ended up receiving is not available on the website because they were upgraded by special order (for free). Since I had tried these glasses on at several opticians and ordered them before any others, I assumed that these would be my favorites and this was also my rationale for investing more money in them ($248; $183 after discounts). To be honest, I love the pair with 1.74 lenses, but it is an unfair comparison against the other companies since 1.74s are not even available on-site. While I also love the frames alone, they are not as robust as I had hoped. My new computer glasses also have a somewhat weaker frame than I feel they should for the retail price. Perhaps that is not entirely Glasses.com’s fault. It is the fault of costly designer frames not being made like they used to be; and you would get the same exact frames at, say, Pearle Vision. Still, they are more delicate than I had hoped.
That said, upon first ordering, I was also not happy with the lens coatings and vision clarity on the premium lens package from Glasses.com, nor the highly polished edges, which led to many returns. While they happily obliged my returns, it began to border on the ridiculous, hence all the compensation (a full refund and $100 credit). My second order - for computer glasses - went smoothly: I got a personal call back to let me know that the order was placed and they even upgraded me to a premium lens package free of charge. So with the $100 credit I had on my account, I paid nothing for my computer glasses, either. Alas, the first pair had to go back (I thought it was a problem with the lens weight, but now I feel it was a faulty frame), but the replacement pair is perfect.
I have mixed feelings about Glasses.com. In total they have given me 3 pairs of glasses with a retail value of almost $1000 for my trouble. I was ultimately happy with both the distance and computer glasses and got a backup pair thrown in. I can't top the customer service I received when things went wrong ... but so many things went wrong. The imperfect quality of the lenses and tendency for the frames to arrive defective has me worried.
Pros: Very good and patient customer service; Good selection of designer frames; Coupons and discounts available; Exceptional returns policy
Cons: Higher prices than other sites; Defects common (in my experience)
I wore them for the first week or so after I got them, but then switched to the other glasses in this review as they arrived to test them all out. I put my Warby Parkers on again this week for the first time after a long gap. The clarity of vision is still perfect, but there are a couple of reasons why they are no longer my absolute favorites. First, they're a real pain to clean. After using plenty of lens solution and a microfiber cloth, when I hold them up to the light there is still a ring around the lens on the inside and outside of the frame which is impossible to get completely clean. I have had glasses since I was a kid and I am at a loss as to how to clean these. Second, I have noticed that on the tip of one stem there is tiny mark in the plastic surface as if it's peeling. I didn't even realize they were coated with something on the surface and I hope it doesn't get worse. Since I've hardly worn them, that is a bit worrying. Also, when I place them on the table, the stems are uneven. I don't believe this was the case when they first arrived. Since I meticulously return them to their case wrapped delicately in a microfiber cloth after each use, all I can presume is that they mold to your head as you wear them. Lastly, after a few days of wear, the lenses seemed to have settled into the frame and they may not be as accurately cut around the edge as I first thought and reported. No one would probably notice but me, but the right side lens has a dark patch along the bottom edge because of the way it has been cut.
Pros: Fixed, fair prices; Charity program; Best standard polycarbonate lenses; Great frame collection (metal frames now available, too).
Cons: Hard to clean; Long-term quality TBD.
Pros: Digital lenses provide exceptional range of vision; High-quality frame with sprung hinges
Cons: Prices have jumped astronomically (see revised table below); Most frames too large for me
*Updated* Summary Table
Here is an updated table condensing all the important information you need to know about these three retailers:
|Warby Parker||DB Vision||Glasses.com|
|Home Try-On||Yes; 5 frames per order, 5 day period||Yes; 4 frames per order, 5 day period||Yes; 5 frames per order, 7 day period|
|Offline Storefront||Yes, several states||Yes; pharmacies, kiosks and military bases; locations ||No, but free frame adjustments at Walmart|
|Free Shipping/Free Returns||Yes/Yes||No/Yes||Yes/Yes|
|Returns Policy and Guarantee||30-day no hassle money back; 1 year replacement on lenses if scratched||"Customer service" promise||30-day no hassle money back; 1 year defect protection on frames and lenses; 1 year 50% credit towards purchase for accidental damage|
|Frame Materials||Cellulose Acetate; Titanium||Acetate or Metal||All types|
|Hinge Types||Teflon-coated, five-barrel hinges (not sprung)||Spring hinges on all frames||Varies (designer)|
|Lens Material||Polycarbonate||Polycarbonate (2 high-index options)|
|Frame adjustment cost||Reimbursed - send in your receipt||Reimbursed - send in your receipt||Ask for certificate to Walmart|
|Total Cost for 1.67 High Index lenses + Shipping||$125 for plastic; $175 for titanium||$89 or $129 plus cost of frame (min $29, max $395 depending on designer); coupons available|
|Shopping experience rating||5 stars||5 stars||3.5 stars|
|Quality of glasses rating||4 stars||4.5 stars||3.5 stars|
Well, that about concludes my review, except for one last bit of advice about Frame PD, a factor that is lacking from most online buying tutorials I have seen.
A final word of advice: PD and Frame PD
I recently helped my parents order their glasses online and realized that it is very confusing for people not familiar with frame measurements to make educated choices about eyewear online. Especially with some of the cheapest eyewear websites not included in this review, a majority of the new, trendy styles come with very large lenses or over-sized nose bridges (this also applies to "alternative fit" styles coming from Asia). Virtual try-ons often resize the frame to fit your face, so you would never know its real size without reading the numbers.
I have thus far only had a chance to mention this key point in passing. In previous parts of this review, I have talked about lens types, coatings, product guarantees, shipping, costs, quality control and why it costs so much more and is much more difficult to get decent high index lenses compared to standard plastic CR-39 or mid-index polycarbonate (which are not suitable for prescriptions above +/-4.00). I also advised that consumers shop around – online and offline – to find frames in a suitable style, shape and size before attempting to buy the exact or similar frame online. But this is not always possible to do given the constraints and pressures of shopping in-store.
The three retailers chosen herein were selected for their in-home try-on programs, but there are also many other online opticians with even cheaper prices that might offer suitable options within your price range. For instance, Zenni Optical, Eyebuydirect, Coastal.com, 39dollarglasses and Firmoo all offer reasonably cheap frames and lenses. The sites have mixed reviews and their return policies vary from generous to miserly. A full review is outside the scope of this post. Since high-index lenses are never included in the super cheap offers (like “full pair of glasses for $6.95”, “first pair free” or “free lenses”), you have to click through to your cart and choose your lens options before determining your final price. In this way, it's a bit like the bait-and-switch that happens at your optician’s office (Buy-1-get-1-free on all glasses! *single vision, under +/-4.00). It can be daunting and confusing to buy glasses online site unseen, but ultimately cheaper than the companies reviewed in full here. I chose not to take the risk of buying frames that I could not try on beforehand, but I might do so in the future. If you are buying high-index glasses online with or without in-home trials, the following information may be useful.
What is "Frame PD" and why does it matter?
In the previous installments of this multipart review, I made reference numerous times to PD or pupil distance and also to what is known as a "frame PD". These important measurements are what I refer to when I say that a frame is "too big" for my face and/or my prescription. I am spending a bit of time on this because this is a how-to for high index glasses, which require thinned lenses that are prone to aberrations and distortions when incorrectly fitted. If you do not wear high index glasses, this will likely be less of a concern to you, but not irrelevant.
Your Binocular PD or Pupil Distance is the measurement – in millimeters – of the distance between your two pupils. The measurement is needed to prepare your glasses, because it indicates to your optician where your eyes will sit in the frame. This is vital, because when glasses lenses are cut, the center of the lens is the most accurate point of your prescription where your vision will be the clearest. It is also the narrowest point. Distance lenses will flare outwards from there, becoming thicker (and more distorted) towards the edges. Ideally, your eyes should sit centrally in your frames for this reason. The center of the lens (its thinnest point) must sit right in front of your pupil. A millimeter either way could cause issues.
One of the keys to buying glasses online is that you need to know your PD. Your optician will likely measure this with a handy machine that you look into for a few seconds. Liberating this measurement from your optician is no small feat. But, once armed with your PD and your Rx, you are comfortably able to have your glasses made anywhere – including by online retailers at a fraction of the price. Many opticians see giving this number away as bad business. I see not giving it to me as even worse business, because I'll never be back again, not even for an eye exam or when I have comprehensive vision coverage. Luckily I found a helpful optician nearby (after several attempts at different ones) who measured it for me without question. He realized that a) it wasn't taking business away from him because I had no intention of shopping in-store anyway, because b) there was nothing he could do to help me afford his prices. Your local optician may or may not feel the same way. I have heard that Walmart opticians give out PDs to anyone who asks, so that might be the best route if the Walmarts near you are less hideous than the ones in New York.
It is also possible to measure it yourself, using instructions like these. There are now apps for phones and tablets that purport to measure it for you. I'm not going to advertise those here since I can't verify if any of them work. I also doubt the ability of high-index lens wearers to successfully navigate one of these apps once they take their glasses off. If you choose to do it yourself, try it a few times and using the different methods so that you can be sure of its accuracy. Adult PDs are usually between 60 and 66mm and will not change, so you do not have to have it re-measured with every new eye examination.
So, figuring out your personal PD is relatively simple. But what is a "frame PD" and why does it matter? Referring to the measurement sample image from firmoo.com (above), the frame PD is the measurement that includes the lens width plus the bridge distance (nose). So using the figures in the sample, the frame PD is 52mm+18mm, or 70mm.
For illustration, let us assume that your personal binocular PD is 60mm. That leaves a 10mm difference between the two measurements (70mm - 60mm = 10mm). Divide by two and you get 5mm per lens. You can plug the data from your frame into this simple formula to work it out for yourself:
|((Frame PD) – (Binocular PD))||=||horizontal decentration per lens|
The resulting number gives your lens dispenser the appropriate level of "horizontal decentration", or the distance in millimeters that they have to literally slide your lens to one side in your frame so that the thinnest and strongest part of the lens – the center - falls in front of your pupil.
All raw, uncut lenses are large circles (see image above). The lenses in a pair of glasses are smaller, usually oblong and cut out from the blank lens circle. The more off-center they are (based on the horizontal decentration between your PD and the frame PD), the thicker the visible edge will be on your actual glasses. You can see photographs of the process of cutting, centering and glazing lenses here.
Shifting a lens 5mm might not sound a lot, but it is a lot for high indexes. What does it mean for your glasses? Well, the more out-sized your glasses are, the thicker your lenses are going to be. This has aesthetic ramifications, especially for thin metal frames, because your lens edges will stick out of your frame and look like coke bottles. Using my measurements and prescription, if I choose a frame with 54mm lenses and 18mm bridge, my lens edge would be 7.4mm thick at 1.67 high index. By choosing a smaller frame (50x16, for instance), the edge thickness drops to 5.7mm. That is a substantial savings in excess weight and distortion.
If the edges of the lenses are polished, then you will be burdened by glare unless the frame covers it entirely. You will also notice more distortion or warping as you look through the outer areas of the lens (my digital lenses from DB Vision noticeably reduce this). Finally, bigger lenses will be heavier on your nose and can weigh down your glasses, causing them to slide or even give you headaches. A bridge that's too wide for your face will add to your frame's PD and also be prone to sliding. This is an important tip for petite women who want to wear trendy hipster glasses with big lenses, or, like myself, who prefer the fit of men's frames to narrow girly ones.
A helpful tool for determining just how distorted your high index lenses will be depending on the size of the frame and your lens index (1.67 vs. 1.74, for instance) can be found here: Lens Thickness Calculator.
Use a ruler or tape measure against the edge of your current glasses to get an idea of any changes in your Rx affecting the thickness. If you're worried that your lenses will be too thick, the best way to fix that is to choose a frame with a smaller lens width or frame PD. Choosing a thinner lens option will also help, but all the websites that I reviewed here only offered 1.67 high index (except for the special replacement I was given by Glasses.com at 1.74). Acetate frames hide the lens edge more than thin metal frames; thick stems hide it more than narrow ones. Avoid semi-rim styles. But those are mostly superficial concerns. The main reason to avoid over-sized glasses is the eyestrain and potential impact on your visual acuity. That doesn't mean you can't wear wayfarers; they just have to be the right proportion.
The good news is that once you find a pair of glasses that fit your face well and are the right size, you probably won't have to go through this process again. Simply write down the measurements of your frames (they're written on the frame itself) the next time you need to go shopping. If you figure these measurements out at your local optician, you can then freely order on one of the cheaper websites that doesn't offer IHTO and reduce (though not eliminate) your risk of being unhappy with your purchase. As it happens, back before online shopping, I never paid much attention to this and just relied on other people telling me that the frames looked okay. I would get them home later with my prescription in them and usually not be fully happy with the choice. So for me I had to do this from scratch so that I could update my glasses with more modern styles and still get a good fit for my lenses. It was worth the time.
When one optician kept harping on about size, I felt very limited in his showroom. Every time I chose a frame, he would shake his head disapprovingly. He kept insisting on a small, round, wired frame like the one I was desperate to get rid of. And he was right to keep me alerted to size, but buying online (risk-free with free returns) let me experiment a bit more. I now have 3 pairs of glasses all with slightly different sizes, but with a total width (both lenses plus bridge) of either 116 or 117mm. (I didn't measure them at the time, but this is how it worked out, attesting to the fact that you can tell the right frame PD by the fit and how they look on you). They are all different materials and lens heights, from 26mm to 32mm. On the advice of the offline optician, I never would have gone with a 32mm tall lens, but they actually excellent for the range of vision they provide. In short, even high index wearers can experiment – within reason – with frame size and style. Just be sure to shop for your face shape and be aware of potential distortions. I keep linking to this poor girl, but her experience is one we can all learn from: this is what happens when you bargain hunt in haste without checking your ideal measurements!
I have thus far had over 2,000 unique views on this series of posts, attesting to a lot of people seeking information about buying glasses online. I would not hesitate to recommend any cheap glasses website for people buying single vision, regular index glasses, because you can get them as cheaply as $6.95 a pair and are not limited by concerns over distortions. But this review is aimed at high-index wearers whose concerns over lens quality and cost are more profound. Popular shopping forums direct people to sites like GlassyEyes for reviews and tips about buying glasses online, but not only is that site rather slow and out of date, it is also not geared towards high-indexes and does not review any of the three sites that I have ordered from. Judging by the positive responses I have received, my reviews fill a niche in the market. Please get in touch if you need any more personalized eyewear advice or if you would like me to do a review of your products.
To my other regular visitors, we will return to our regularly scheduled anthropological programming in my next post!
Eyeglasses Review Index
- How to buy glasses online (Part 1): A comparison review
- How to buy glasses online (Part 2): Glasses.com
- How to buy glasses online (Part 3): Warby Parker
- How to buy glasses online (Part 4): DB Vision
- How to buy glasses online (Part 5): Summary and Conclusion
Image Credits from top: Y4G3R/Deviantart; PD tools, Frame PD and uncut lens photos all from Firmoo.com